Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Miami in a Few Days

It's been awhile since my last post, but that's okay.  Every writer needs a break now and again to clear the cobwebs. Today I want to recap my short visit to Miami. When the total trip is 5 days including plane flights, we're not talking a lot of time.  I was on my own during the day and then spending time with Glen at night.  What I thought I would be doing and what I ended up doing were very different.  My first thought was that in addition to some general tourist jaunts I would spend several hours a day writing and hit the hotel gym.  The writing just didn't happen, nor did the gym, but I covered a lot ground in Miami and Miami Beach.  I love architecture and history so that's where my main focus turned.  

Terrible view from our room! :)

When you visit a new city - the first thing you have to decide is what you want from the trip and that defines where you chose to book a hotel.  As I was travelling with my husband who was there for business, we ended up at the Holiday Inn on Biscaynne Way  in the city which was one block from the college he was working at during the day.  This saved him tremendous travel time and turned out to be a great location for exploring.  The discount room had a terrible view of a side roof with the air conditioners on them - the funny part, my husband works in air conditioning!!! :) The hotel was right across from Bayside Market and Park - the central location for the Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus that proved my best transport during the day.   

Bayside Market Water Front
If you want to be in the midst of the noise, action and sand - you'd probably want to stay at South Beach, but be prepared.  I spent $18 on one Mojita.  They don't put prices on the drinks in the menu so don't be afraid to ask as they range wildly.  The main drag is also very noisy, but it does get quieter as you head to the north end of the strip or back away from the water.  The newer hotels to the north are right on the water and seem quieter - at the main South Beach strip you have to cross a park to get to the water.  If you do not want to explore and are focused instead on relaxation with lots of peace and quiet - Key Biscayne looked lovely.  We only went to the national park there the last morning on our way to the airport, but passed several nice hotels and beaches that were low key and out of the frenzy of the main tourist areas.

Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus -

For exploring, the  Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus offers a city loop of Miami that hits Vizcaya, the Miami Science Museum, Coconut Grove, the Biltmore Hotel, the Venetian Pool, Coral Gables and Little Havana.  Then there is a Miami Beach loop that includes South Beach where a part of your ticket price includes a free self-directed audio tour from the Art Deco Welcome Center covering the history of the area as well as many new hotels and tourist sites. $64 (just under $58 if you book online) will get you a pass good for 48 hours that includes a boat cruise.  If your goal is to explore as much as possible in a short period of time, this is a good way to go. Both leave from the Bayside Market so having a hotel near there saves a lot of time.  I started the first day around 11 a.m., so my pass was good the third morning until 11 a.m.   Each loop of the bus takes about 90 minutes. They have a guide on board to give you the history of the area and point out interesting spots. You can just ride it as a tour bus, or use it as transportation to get around the city and beach.  There is also a local bus system that costs only $2 a ride, some limited free trolley service and an overhead limited free rail service.

Ice Cream and Cigar shop in
Little Havanna
Banyon Tree - the biggest in
Florida is 3 acres I believe

For the first day I rode the city loop without getting off just listening to the guide and checking out where I might like to come back the next day. Then I jumped on the Beach loop.  A welcome break was at South Beach for the audio tour.  The suggestion was to walk and listen to the tape, then stop for a drink somewhere and re-listen to the parts that interested you - a good choice I followed.  Day 2 I rode the City Loop again to Vizcaya.  I love historical buildings and this one was a goody that still had most of the original furniture.  I tried one of the recommended shopping stops - Coconut Grove - but was not impressed.  Then in the afternoon it was time for the boat cruise.  The commentary was a bit lifestyles of the Rich and Famous for me, but it was still interesting.  Day 3 I took out to Lincoln Road and Espanola Drive and was disappointed by both as far as shopping, but there were many restaurant possiblities.

Vizcaua - Outside and In!

Interesting notes - 
- The architecture of Miami is much more conceptual that other places I have been.  I was especially intrigued by all the cut out spaces in the high rises.  In Vancouver we would never give up the chance to earn that extra income.  The best is Th Atlantis by architectural firm Arquitectonica.  It has a 5-story Palm Court through in the middle of the building that supposedly to represents a town square.

-  Of the 22 islands that make up this area, all but 2 are man made.
- On one island the average annual income is $54 million
- One of the biggest properties on the richest island is owned by the man running the company that sells Viagra.  It cost $50 million to build.
-  Another property had air conditioning outside as well so those by the pool were comfortable.
- A couple of these high end islands allow you to drive on, but you have to surrender your driver's license at the gate, they take a photograph of your license plate and warn you not to get out of your car. All this so you can look at the high wall all the celebs have put along the road so you can't see them.
-  Coral Gables might be a rich place to live but too many rules - If you paint your house a color that is not approved you are fined $250 a day until it is returned to an appropriate color, $250 fine if you leave your garage door open for too long as you're inciting crime, $250 fine per day to both you and your real estate agent if your sale sign is larger than 4 inches by 8 inches, $250 fine if you have a landscaper working on your property on the weekend, and the list goes on!!!! 
- I never saw anyone outside enjoying the sun, their pool or the water at any of these expensive homes.  With tour boats going by constantly, what privacy would you have?
- Over 60% of Miami is bilingual
-  I never saw anyone with a sunburn. 
- One mojita could cost from $9 to $19.  There were no prices in the menu for drinks so you had to ask.
- You could buy drinks at the Bayside Market and walk around with them outside.

South Beach - notice the vintage cars in front of each hotel?
Also the cafe starts on the porch and goes to the curb.
Shopping - 
I had very little luck finding stores that offered something unique to the area. Someone with more insider info or time could give you better information, but in the few days I was here my experience was that all the places that were recommended - Coconut Grove and Lincoln Drive in particular - were disappointing.  Nothing unusual about them.  I actually had better luck shopping at the Bayside Market across from my hotel.  

Selling fresh coconuts in
Little Havana
Cigar Girl in South Beach

Restaurants - 
Food the Bayside Market was standard fare - Chilis, Tradewinds, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.  There was one Argentinian restaurant we didn't have time to try, but based on the others we let it go.  Lincoln Drive may not have had much in shopping that interested me, but one of the best meals I had was there at Yuca (Young Urban Cuban American). Very nouveau Cuban. We both shared a salad of spinach, fried goat cheese and strawberries.  Then I had Yuca Rellena - an noveau dish with mushroom picadillo (picadillo is usually made from meat, raisins and olives,.so surprising).  The presentation on this dish also sold me before I even took that first amazing bite. It was my favourite meal of the trip. Glen had Ropa Vieja Angus - another well presented, tasty dish.  Special note - there is a space above the restaurant for those who love Salsa dancing.

Yuca Rellena on Left - Ropa Vieja Angus on Right
The other restaurant we both liked was tucked on a short back street just a few blocks from our hotel.   CVI.CHE 105 (Cerviche 105) offers Peruvian cuisine.  The most popular dish around us was a 4-sampler of Cerviche that wasn't on the menu, but having already eaten Cerviche, I wanted to try something new.  We started with Lima Criolla Stuffed Potatos which were crusty on the outside and filled with a tasty traditional Picadillo on the inside.  Then I had Tacu Lomo which made my taste buds stand up. Glen took a taste and ended up awarding it the best dish of the trip.  He ordered a fish dish in yellow sauce with a small topping of crab that while good, did not have the expected flavour pop of mine. The only down side was that both meals were a bit on the salty side.  

CVI.Che 105
So there you have it - Miami and Miami Beach in a 3-1/2 day nutshell.  Everyone's experience will be different as what you want from your holiday will be unique.  My best advice is to think carefully about what you want from the trip and then spend a few days of research finding the best place to experience that.

 Left - Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables - built in 11 months.
Right - Venetian Pool i Coral Gables - Fresh water, no chlorine.
Water is completely changed every week.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pork Carnitas

I absolutely love Mexican food.  It started in my early teens when my parents moved the family from South Dakota to Central California.  Taco Bell isn't REAL Mexican food, but from that first crispy taco that fell apart as I munched it, I was hooked.  Fortunately I ended up for several years in Southern California and found my way to restaurants and homes that fed me amazing food created with traditional ingredients.  To this day I still have a love affair with this style of cooking.

It's a little more challenging scratching this itch in Canada and the cookbooks I found never had quite that authentic feel to them even though the food was good. Then when I was down in Los Angeles for Christmas, I noticed my younger brother was working with one I had not seen before.  He is married to a Mexican-American and for some reason, when the family gets together, the men usually end up cooking.  He is probably one of the best cooks I know, so I knew this collection of recipes must be special.  I made sure I emailed the name of the cookbook home so I could order a copy on my return.

The book is called, Cocina De La Famila by Marilyn Tausend with Miguel Ravago and has won the Julia Child Cookbook Awards. In the introduction, the writer shares what I think is the key to why this book feels so authentic, "For much of the past 3 years I have traveled back and forth across the United States talking to hundreds of Mexican and Mexican-American cooks, hearing their stories and collecting their recipes.  Seldom were the ingredients or instructions written down, but I learned from watching, listening and talking.  Cocina de la Famila is the tale of these many cooks..."

I haven't had time to explore new recipes for awhile, but an invite to a Cinco De Mayo potluck this last week provided the impetus to finally crack the cover of this book and give one of the recipes a try.  Carnitas means "little meats."  Pieces of pork are cooked for along time until crispy, placed on a tortilla and slightly shredded and then topped with various condiments.  Although there was one minor problem in the instructions, in the end the taste was wonderful.  I would make this again in a minute.  I can't comment on whether this actually feeds 6-8, as I used it as an hors d'oeuvres (served meat with salsa and mini pitas with separated the layers into 2 pieces to replicate mini-tortillas.)

While this takes several hours, most of it is just being there to check on it while cooking. It's not labour intensive in any way.

Tacos of Crispy Pork Bits - Carnitas
Servers 6-8 with several a piece

4 lbs.       Boneless pork shoulder or butt
2             White onions quartered
6             Cloves Garlic, whole
2 tsp        Dried Oregano, preferably Mexican
2-3          Canned Whole Pickled Jalapeno Chiles  (all I could find were sliced so had to guess how many to put in)
Sea Salt
3/4 cup   Dr. Pepper (Can use Coke, but I think the Dr. Pepper add more flavour)
3/4 Cup   Orange Juice
Zest or Peel of 1/2 orange, cut in narrow 1 inch long strips
Freshly Ground Pepper

Store bought small corn or flour tortilla, waremd
Guacamole (Optional)

Trim off excess fat from the outside of the meat leaving the thin inner strips.  Cut into irregular chunks about 1-1/2 inches square. Place the meat in a wide, heavy pot such as a dutch oven.  Cover with water by 1/2 inch - no more.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat and skim off any foam that rises to the surface.  Add onions, garlic, oregano, chiles and salt to taste.  When the water begins to boil again, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour until the meat is almost tender and liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.  If there is still liquid in the pan when the meat is ready, turn up the heat and boil until liquid has evaporated. Watch carefully so that meat doesn't scorch.  (Note - I found this took a LOT longer than 1 hour, not sure why).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Remove chiles form the pot (I took out the onion and whole garlic cloves as well and left just the meat).  Place the meat in a single layer in a flat, oven proof baking dish.  Add the Dr. Pepper, Orange Juice, Orange zest, pepper and salt if desired and mix well. Bake 30-40 minutes uncovered until the meat is crispy and glazed with the syrup.  The meat will have to be stirred often because the sugar in the soda and orange juice will burn easily.

Drain of any accumulated fat and put the carnitas in a serving dish.  Scoup up with tortillas (you can shred a bit with a fork), top with salsa and guacamole (optional) and enjoy.  Note - some people preshred the meat and serve that way, others make the tacos with shredded lettuce, tomatos, etc.  Some just like the meat by itself with or without the tortillas.  The choice is yours.

There are MANY versions of Carnitas out there and a wide variety of toppings.  As with all cooking, it's about finding the version that best suits your taste.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fame'd - The Little Magazine That Could

This article is both a joy and a sorrow to write. It is the story of the last 5 years of my life.

Collectible #4 Cover 2012
Famed Magazine (first published under the name of Vancouver Fashion eZine), began with a meeting in July 2007.  I desperately wanted to write more seriously but could not find a regular outlet.  After posting a notice on Craigslist. a local fashion photographer and web developer emailed. He wanted to start a fashion magazine promoting Vancouver artists, had the website and name, and just needed to find writers. The decision was made to launch the first edition in 2007.

I was one of 4 writers in the beginning, but many times had to pick up the slack for others that dropped out.  There was one month where all 5 articles landed in my lap. The photographer handled most of the photo shoots as well as everything to do with the website.  It took only 6 months for me to realize there needed to be someone in charge of scheduling and writers, so I stepped up to the position of Editor, leaving the creative direction and website in the founder's hands.  Shortly thereafter I became a partner.

Collectible #3 Cover 2011
It was an amazing experience.  Interviewing and telling people's stories proved a deep passion for me and that focus trickled into the articles produced.  Opening a door for readers to learn more about the artist, their life and inspiration proved to be popular with readers and the magazine quickly gained in circulation. From just 4 articles a month we grew to have 8 regular features - New Designer, Update Designer, Accessory, New Face, Fashion Professional, Design Student, Retail and Behind the Scenes (interviews with those in the industry for 20 years or more).  Special features found their way in as well such as the annual Telio Competition. Then a new door opened.

In February 2007, my mother's unexpected passing left me with a small inheritance.  While trying to get to sleep one night, my thoughts drifted to the magazine that meant so much to me and all the contributors who helped produce the content. I wanted to thank them and celebrate what we had collectively achieved. In meeting with my partner I shared my decision to finance a 2-year print collectible edition and he surprised me by choosing to create the graphics.  Although I was worried about the timing as he had a full-time job and a young family, in the end it proved a godsend.  The cost of a graphic designer would have been more than I could have covered!

Collectible #2 Cover  2010
From that moment, we both entered a 4 month pressure cooker.  All photographers who had contributed had to be contacted to get hi-rez images and permission to publish.  Every article had to be gone over as none had been edited in the beginning and standard lengths needed to be imposed.  Ads had to be sold - a difficult and frustrating job when you have never done it before, a printer decided on, quote received, pricing calculated and distribution sorted out.  The issue was to contain all content from September 2007 to September 2009, so monthly editions had to continue to go up while we added the new work load.  I think both of us collapsed at one point and a few times considered folding the project, but in the end it was worth it.  It was beautiful and when I opened the box and held that first copy in my hands it made me cry.

My husband was a dream through all this, most of all when the magazines arrived.  I had ordered 5000.  The Olympics were coming and I wanted to be sure I had enough to really widen our readership.  Unfortunately I had no idea how big a 258 page glossy magazine was and how much room they would take - or even how I was going to get them in my house.  Reality struck with the arrival of the shipping documents - the magazine weighed a whopping 1 KG each and were 1/2 inch thick!  I had seriously underestimated the mailing charges for our online pre-sales and had to refund international orders.  There were 250 boxes weighing over 20 KG each that had to be moved by hand from the driveway into the house and stored. It was backbreaking work.  Fortunately my daughter was travelling for a year as we filled her space from one end to the other.  It took a full year to distribute all those copies and I didn't break even on my investment, but it is the one decision I am most proud of. I wouldn't change a thing.

At first launch party in September 2010
In September 2010, the magazine had it's first launch party - conceived and produced by one of our writers, Steely Springham.  It was both exhausting and exhilarating.  Then we re-branded to Famed at our launch in October 2011.  The new name, once established, would open the doors for further growth and a wider coverage of the arts. A graphic artist came on board to handle the artwork for the 2012 edition - a welcome addition. Unfortunately, in March 2012 the difficult decision was made to cease publication.  For all our success in readership, the magazine had not made in-roads in becoming a monetary success and the hours required to handle all the demands of our continued growth had begun to take it's toll.  It was the right decision, but one of the hardest of my life.  The new content would not go to print, so complimentary download version was created.
Collectible #1 Cover 2007 - 2009

As I say farewell to this chapter, I look back with pride.  This publication was a collaborative process with over 350 talented industry professionals that opened the door on artists from unknowns just out of school  to international talents.  Each annual edition featured around 70 articles and the work of over 100 artists - photographers, hair stylists, make-up artists, fashion stylists, writers and illustrators. Fame'd was unique in the industry and I hope more publications take notice and step in to fill the void.

In honour of our 5 years - a collectible DVD has been created with digital 3D versions of all publications from 2007 - 2012.  It is available for PC or MAC (a PDF only version for iPAD is also available - email for information).  This is such a great resource for anyone involved in the fashion world and full of content for those interested in behind the scenes stories. For more information go to -

Now the future lays wide open.  Where the future will take me is still up in the air.  I can only hope it's as exciting and rewarding as the last 5 years have been.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kelsey Dundon - Bring It On

by guest writer Erika Renfrew

Lifestyle blogger and marketing master Kelsey Dundon

Photo by Sherry Lu
Kelsey Dundon plainly recalls getting snubbed by the elementary school mean girls. After a soccer game, they went out to eat at Red Robin (or some kid-friendly restaurant like that). The mean girls all wore Dr.Martens, and too bad for her if she didn't; she was shunned to another table. If only they could see her now. Dr. Martens recently invited her to submit a photo to be featured at an exclusive Toronto event. The total opposite of a mean girl, Dundon has become a successful entrepreneur and local celebrity by staying sunny and bright.

It was a beautiful February afternoon when Dundon and I met outside JJBean on Commercial Drive. Like a born-and-raised Vancouver gal, she looked casual-chic in jeans, an oversized sweater and black sunglasses. We couldn’t meet at her home because her living room was being painted: a lovely shade of grey that was looking a bit too purple. After five years, Dundon and her husband were finally renovating. With a dining room painted every colour imaginable, her interior style is masculine meets mid-century, but bright and eclectic too. “One day I will have built-in book shelves, of course by then everything will be on a Kindle,” says Dundon. She likes to think of herself as working amidst the city: “I've been on my own for six months now and I think I've spent maybe three days at my desk”.

“I’m very much a cheerleader,” explains Dundon, when asked to describe herself as a brand. Three years ago she created The Anthology, a blog devoted to fashion, travel, music and design (even snowshoeing and heli-hiking). It began as a hobby, sharing things she found interesting from the World Wide Web. After attending the St. George'sSchool fair, Dundon purchased a bunch of grandma dresses: worn to the floor with absurd shoulder pads. She snapped before photos, took them to her tailor for some serious remodelling, and shared them with her readers. This vintage before-and-after became a staple feature on The Anthology and sparked Dundon’s focus on original content. The Anthology is humour, entertainment and creativity, and Dundon hopes readers find it at least slightly informative.

Dundon never doubted she would be an entrepreneur: “I always felt like that was what I ultimately wanted to do and the stars were kind of aligning”. With a degree in English Literature, she assumed journalism would be her focus. Her interests broadened after interning for The Tyee, an independent online magazine, and Wasserman+ Partners, a marketing agency. Dundon loved the creative nine-to-five: the energy and collaboration with designers kept her happily employed for six years. “I’ve never taken a marketing class,” says Dundon (although you’d never be able to tell). Last year, she left the company and founded Northill Creative, a Vancouver communications and consulting firm. “It’s much less stressful to be an employee than it is to be an entrepreneur,” explains Dundon. Despite a warp-speed schedule, she is grateful for every opportunity: “It’s a good problem to have”.

With a girlfriend’s trip to New York on the agenda for next week, Dundon debates whether to write a travel piece. Travel writing is her favourite, but vacations become less play and more work. “January kicked my ass,” says Dundon. She doesn't call herself an adrenaline junkie, but next on her list is kayaking with whales and rafting through the Grand Canyon.

Sometimes feeling as though she bounces around, Dundon loves her life. Answering questions in between bites of scone, she was immediately heading from one task to another. Tsk-tsked by her brother for “costume laziness” (she has been Snow White for Halloween every year since grade eight), she is the opposite of unimaginative. While you won’t catch her twirling about with pompoms, Kelsey Dundon proves that nice girls can finish first.

For more information, check out Dundon's website at

Georgia Heraty - Perfectly Imperfect

By Guest Writer Erika Renfrew
As the founder of Social Experiment, Georgia Heraty designs cocktail rings with West Coast spirit

Georgia Heraty is the quintessential Vancouver gal; a girly-girl with long, blonde hair, who came to our meeting in rain boots. She doesn’t enjoy wearing make-up on the weekends, and thinks the best way to de-stress is to sweat it out. Georgia loves Vancouver for its rough-around-the-edges beauty: mountains, ocean, sand and snow. With a seashell tattooed on one ankle, and a snowflake on the other, the West Coast lives within her. She is the founder of Social Experiment, designing one-of-a-kind cocktail rings. The stone’s irregular shapes and imperfections are tied to Georgia’s West Coast spirit; nothing is perfect in nature.

Georgia asked to meet at Coco et Olive, an adorable fine foods café. We sat on mismatched chairs around a scuffed-up table, and sipped from teacups that could have come from my grandmother’s china cabinet. This charming café, with its beautiful imperfections, was a fitting place to hear the Social Experiment story. With a need for something new, Georgia enrolled in a simple ring-making course and began giving her creations away as birthday gifts. With a nudge from her friends, she became a one-woman assembly line and reached out to local boutiques. Like Vancouver’s wild weather, Georgia never expected this hobby to become a business; Social Experiment evolved organically. “It starts out of nothing,” says Georgia, “but it can fall into place”.

Social Experiment has a very literal meaning. Georgia wanted to test the waters, and considered selling rings at beaches and parks. Voila! A social experiment. Social Experiment has only really gotten on the Vancouver map within the past year or two. Using semi-precious stones and gold wire, no two rings are the same; everyone might own one, but no one will own the same one. Georgia’s favourites are the sea foam green Chrysoprase and the Peruvian opal cut at different angles, but every stone she picks is something she herself would wear. Dubbed by her girlfriends as Type A Hippie, Georgia balances an always-on-the-go city life with West Coast living: “Nothing about my personality is in the middle”.

Georgia is a personal trainer, French student and aspiring gym teacher by day, and jewellery designer in all the times between. What exactly can’t she do? Not much it seems. Georgia attributes happiness and success to positive thought. “I really do believe you can manifest what you want”, says Georgia, and while she never anticipated Social Experiment, she refuses to let this opportunity slip away. Over the past year, Social Experiment has blossomed thanks to her fearless approach to business. She calls herself impatient, and isn’t afraid to be aggressive when there is something she really wants. But sitting across from Georgia, smiling wide in her pink scarf and Mala beads, she was a perfect sweetheart.

She may be learning French, and have a dual citizenship for Europe, but Georgia’s body, heart and soul is in Vancouver. Inspired by nature’s imperfections, she designs for the classic West Coast gal, and women who just appreciate beautiful things. Georgia lives every day in the moment, whether it’s outdoors, at school, or in her apartment making rings and watching awful TV. Sore hands and all, Georgia appreciates life’s imperfections.

Social Experiment is popping up in all sorts of places. You can find Georgia’s one-of-kind cocktail rings featured on numerous style blogs. Purchase your own from select boutiques, such as Barefoot Contessa, Muse Social Fashion House and Violet Hill Boutique, or from Etsy online: